The California State University system for the first time in its history is proposing to turn away qualified students due to a worsening state budget crisis.
As part of a plan to slash its 450,000 enrollment by 10,000 students for the 2009-2010 academic year, the 23-campus system, the nation's largest, will push up application deadlines and raise the academic bar for freshmen at its most popular campuses, Chancellor Charles B. Reed said Monday.
The university has never tried this type of enrollment cap, and Cal State officials said they cannot be sure how it will work. While sophomore transfers and out-of-state and international students will be squeezed, California high school graduates probably will bear the brunt of the downsizing, officials said. The university typically admits 45,000 to 50,000 freshmen each year; if even half the reductions land on them, it would mean a 10% drop in first-year admissions.
"These are going to be kids who have done everything they're supposed to do, and told year after year they'll have this opportunity," said Kathy Rapkin, chair of the counseling department at Arcadia High School and past president and Southern California regional representative for the California Assn. of School Counselors. "These kids are not going to get a place."
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger convened a special session of the Legislature this month to deal with a budget shortfall that could swell to $24 billion by mid-2010.
Reed said the Cal State system anticipates $66 million in midyear budget cuts, and further reductions for 2009-2010. He refused to discuss whether a fee hike is in store for next year. His enrollment plan comes as demand for Cal State admission soars; applications are up 10% from the same time a year ago, officials said.
Reed said he would consult with Cal State's Board of Trustees at their meeting Wednesday, but he already has the authority to impose enrollment restrictions and is planning to act soon.
"This is something California State University has never done," he said in a conference call with reporters.
Cal State is not the only higher education institution reporting financially driven enrollment issues. The University of California said it might have to limit admission to its most popular campuses and send more students to those with extra space, typically Riverside and Merced. At the state's community colleges, actual enrollment probably won't be limited but students' access to classes may be, officials said.
"We won't be able to offer them the classes they need," said Diane Woodruff, chancellor of the California Community Colleges.
She predicted that the lack of classes could drive away 250,000 full- or part-time students; 2.7 million are now enrolled in that system.
The basic requirements for admission to Cal State are high school graduation, completion of college prep course work and a B average. Students with a C average or above can get in with good SAT or ACT test scores.
A number of Cal State's sought-after campuses have for several years cut off some or all applications in the fall, but the official deadline was in the spring and some colleges accepted eligible applicants up to and including the first day of classes.
This year the cutoff for many campuses is Nov. 30, and all colleges will stop taking applications by March 1. San Francisco State has set a Dec. 10 deadline.
Some campuses, including Sonoma, Channel Islands, Northridge, Chico, San Jose, San Marcos and San Francisco, will continue to take all fully qualified students from their own communities. But students from other parts of California may have to show higher grade-point averages and test scores to make the cut at these and other campuses, officials said.
San Diego State, Cal State Long Beach, Cal State Fullerton, Cal Poly Pomona and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, the most popular campuses, have imposed similar academic restrictions for several years.
Reed said the enrollment cutback will be felt most deeply by students of color already underrepresented in the four-year college system.
"Many students from under-served groups and families of color . . . are unsure about financial aid, when and how to apply . . . and do not make up their minds until spring," he said. They are "who I worry about most."
Lourdes Garcia-Meza, a counselor at John F. Kennedy High School in Granada Hills, said low- and middle-income minority students at her school could be hit hard.
"These are good students and they worked really hard to make it at Cal State Northridge and Cal State L.A.," she said. "It's going to be heartbreaking."
Cal State officials said the cap is a better option than increasing class size or dropping course sections, as they did during a previous economic downturn in the early 1990s. Many students could not enroll in the classes they wanted and dropped out, bringing enrollment figures down.
Cal State currently receives $2.97 billion of its budget from the state's general fund and $1.5 billion from student fees. The system has raised fees six times in seven years. The cost of attending a Cal State college, not including housing, books and other living expenses, is about $3,800 a year.
State Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell urged the state Legislature to raise enough revenue to provide higher education to all eligible students.
"Providing access to higher education for all qualified students is key to strengthening our economy in the future," O'Connell said in a written statement.
Times staff writer Larry Gordon contributed to this article.